A Long Hot Summer: Masta Ace [Interview]
New York, NY – Legend is not a word to be thrown around thoughtlessly. The word originally refered to a tale that stands the test of time, and is passed down for ages. These days artists are attributed legendary status, and with this the assumption that their art will be immortalized in history. Arguably, most musicians have not earned the title.
Masta Ace is an exception to this rule. Think Marley Marl and The Juice Crew. Think Spike Lee and Crooklyn Dodgers. Think ‘The Symphony’, ‘Me & the Biz’, or ‘Music Man’. And if all these thoughts don’t spark an immediate flame of recollection, then think classic hip-hop music.
But this Music Man is far, far from retiree status. Ace’s last performance in Toronto two years ago was unquestionably the highlight of 2002 for live shows, as Ace displayed an unparalleled ability to control the crowd like a veteran with the stamina and endurance of a young buck. His new album – A Long Hot Summer – is the prequel to Disposable Arts and is evidence once again how easily Ace moves from eighties era lyricism to the demanding expectations of hip-hop connoisseurs in 2004. Like any true veteran of the craft, he has mastered adaptability as well as staying power.
Really, no set-up should be required to introduce this legend. Enter Masta Ace.
HipHopCanada: What’s a typical day in the life of Ace right now?
Masta Ace: Wake up. Eat something. Check emails, which usually takes 2-3 hours. Wash dishes. Negotiate (via email or phone) details of a performance booking. Make the bed, straighten up the apartment. Do a few phone interviews. Go to football practice – I coach junior varsity high school football in my spare time. Later that night go do interview at local college radio station. Then make an appearance at some artists’ release party.
HipHopCanada: Congratulations on the release of your fifth album. What has the general feedback been like so far?
Masta Ace: Feedback has been incredible so far. People are saying nice things and the critics have been extremely supportive.
HipHopCanada: You have mentioned that an overseas tour provided the inspiration to jump back into recording and the making of “Disposable Arts”. Was there something that encouraged the creation of “Long Hot Summer” as well?
Masta Ace: I didn’t feel that Disposable got a fair chance in the market since the label went bankrupt shortly after its release. I was inspired to make “…Summer” a prequel to “D,A.” so people who never got a chance to hear it would be motivated to go back and listen to it.
HipHopCanada: There are some underlying sentiments on “Long Hot Summer” that I caught as feelings of under appreciation or lack of acknowledgement in the game. In the same breath, you sound thankful and satisfied in life. How do you maintain balance when it’s so easy to get frustrated by the way the biz has treated you?
Masta Ace: Life in the rap game has been a roller coaster ride of emotions. At times I have felt very frustrated and bitter towards the industry and then other times I recognize how fortunate I have been to be a part of this thing. I have seen things and been places that many people will never get to experience. I have been able to balance out the negative feelings I have at times, by recognizing all the positive things that have happen in my life as a result of this thing called hip-hop.
HipHopCanada: The “Soda and Soap” track with Jean Grae is insanely dope. I feel silly ’cause it took me a few listens to catch what you were doing with the verses, originally I just thought it was a fresh, introspective story. How did that track come together (with Spinna and Jean on the hook and what you chose to rhyme about)?
Masta Ace: That song was originally written back in 2001 for Will Smith to a different beat. I really put my all into the lyrics and tried to give him something cool and unique. The song never got used and I felt that it was too cool of a concept to go to waste. So I rewrote it slightly and made it apply to me and the rest is history. The Spinna track turned out to be the perfect fit after trying the song to a number of different beats. Jean Grae just added another layer to the song with her smooth voice.
HipHopCanada: Is Toronto really that dangerous for women and losing money?
Masta Ace: Naw, just needed a cool way to work Canada Dry into the song..
HipHopCanada: When you tell stories in your songs (i.e. Big City or Bklyn Masala) are they situations you experienced first hand or more of a narrative?
Masta Ace: They are fictional narratives based on real life experiences. I draw from my real life experiences in order to construct these stories.
HipHopCanada: I read somewhere that Bahamadia was supposed to be on this album. Was that a rumour or….?
Masta Ace: Yea she was almost on there. I felt like I need another female voice on the album. Disposable had a good female representation with Jean, Rah Digga, Jane Doe and Leschea and I felt the female voices on “…Summer” were not as significant. In the end it was too close to the final days and we couldn’t get it done in time.
HipHopCanada: You mentioned in the past that “Take a Walk” was one of your favorite songs spanning all your music. You have any new faves with “A Long Hot Summer”? Is Disposable Arts still your favorite album of them all?
Masta Ace: Disposable is still my favorite album of mine…for now. My favorite songs on “…Summer” are ‘Da Grind’, ‘FAY’, ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Good Ol Love’
HipHopCanada: You just came back from another overseas tour this summer. Does the scene and crowds over there always stay the same, or do things change each time you go out? Can you describe what its like out there?
Masta Ace: Each time I go over seas to tour the experience is slightly different but the audience remains a constant. Super high energy! Crowds full of love for the music and a willingness to express that love as loudly and enthusiastically as humanly possible.
The scene overseas reminds me of a time when hip-hop was still young. When it was all about hot, hard beats and intelligent aggressive lyrics. People in Europe still have fun with it.
HipHopCanada: What are listening to right now outside of Hip-hop?
Masta Ace: Wordsworth’s album.. Mirror Music… I have an advance copy.
HipHopCanada: Who would you love to collab with that is not a Hip-hop artist, and why?
Masta Ace: Portishead… I would love to produce something for her…
HipHopCanada: I know you’re a football fanatic. Have you checked out our CFL players? What you think of their game?
Masta Ace: I have actually watched a few CFL games recently. I been needing some kind of football. I think the players are pretty much comparable. I just have a problem with some of the rules and that damn HUGE enzone.
HipHopCanada: So I hear that you love to cook. What’s your favorite recipe?
Masta Ace: Baked Ziti
HipHopCanada: You said in an interview once that “there are more than two (movements in hip-hop). Problem is, only one gets mainstream attention”. Can you expand on that?
Masta Ace: What I meant is there are many different types of hip-hop with many different messages. For some reason not all those sounds get represented on the radio or on T.V. The commercial audience needs to be exposed to more kinds of hip-hop. We need more balance on the radio and television.
HipHopCanada: The first poem you wrote – in 6th grade – I know you still have it. What was it about? Would you ever share any lines with us?
Masta Ace: I do still have it. It’s in a storage trunk along with my nursery school diploma and note books and test papers from 3rd grade. I may share this poem one day in the future, but not yet.
HipHopCanada: If you were the CEO of your own label, who would you sign and how would you do things differently?
Masta Ace: I would call the label M3 and I would sign Strick as my 1st artist. I would make sure he didn’t make the same mistakes I made. I would further make sure that the music out weighed or at least lived up to the hype.
HipHopCanada: Any last words?
Masta Ace: Yes… The audience needs to know that word of mouth for an independent artist is incredibly valuable. If you love my new album, tell a friend and please help spread the word. ‘A Long hot Summer’, in Stores Now.
Editor’s Note: Visit Masta Ace online at http://www.M3hiphop.com.
Written by Silk Kaya for HipHopCanada